Daily Video

August 11, 2009

Alabama Highway System Raises Spending Concerns

As part of NewsHour’s ongoing “Blueprint America” series, produced in collaboration with WNET-New York, special correspondent Rick Karr, looks at an Alabama highway system currently under the microscope.

Authorized 50 years ago by President Johnson, the Appalachian Development Highway System program was designed to incorporate isolated communities and end poverty in the mountainous region. Now in the 21st century, new plans are being drawn up for the Northern Beltline which will expand its reach to 13 states and more than 3,000 miles.

Some say that building a new Northern Beltline will bring jobs and spur growth to the surrounding communities even if it does disrupt some local land holdings but others question the wisdom of continuing to spend federal dollars during a recession.


“The growth opportunities that are presented by the Northern Beltline will actually help create more jobs. We need more jobs, and we need a better tax base for Jefferson County to be able to get out of the crisis that they’re currently in.” Phillip Wiedmeyer, Coalition for Regional Transportation

“You have an initially good program for a good purpose, but you end up Christmas-treeing it with all these additional projects, and it just gets out of control. Once you start the program, you never stop it, so it is a zombie highway program.” David Burwell, Environmental Lawyer

“So I would much rather personally see investment in public transportation, which is much less expensive than a new highway system.” Cathy Crenshaw, Sloss Real Estate Group

Warm Up Questions

1. Name all of the highways surrounding your community.

2. What kinds of buildings surround these highways? Are these federal, state or local highways?

Discussion Questions

1. What would you do if the state wanted to put a highway where you lived? How would you fight it?

2. Some people in the piece called this Alabama’s “road to nowhere” much like Alaska’s bridge to no where. What does this term mean? Why do legislatures try to get funds for “road to nowhere”?

3. Do you think federal funds should be used to build local highways? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

Lesson Plan: America’s Infrastructure

WNET: Blueprint America

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